Primary colours are having a moment - but the secret to styling them is through 'unexpected' touches

The 'unexpected red theory' marked the start of a primary colour revival - here's how to make the shades stylish

Living room with blue statement armchair and abstract wall
(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

The 'unexpected red theory' has thrown a surprising spanner into the works in a world of pared-back beige interiors, but it's official - primary colours are the latest and greatest trend to follow. 

You likely haven't considered using primary colours since school art classes, but the simple colour palette is making a bright comeback, encouraging us all to embrace playful paint ideas in our homes. 

Whether you're looking to update a living room colour scheme or inject more personality into a kitchen colour scheme, primary colours will be a simple way of embracing a maximalist attitude. But don't worry, the trend is focused around 'unexpected', smaller touches mean it's within reach even if your taste is more quiet luxury than dopamine decor...

How to decorate with primary colours

Primary colours are the most fundamental colours; red, yellow and blue. The bright, youthful shades aren't commonly used in their loudest forms in interiors, in favour of subtle, tonal palettes. But recent trends are skewing towards our homes showing more character, so it's primary colours' time to shine. 

As the three shades form the basis of the colour wheel, they're incredibly easy to pair together, or with other shades. You can go bold with these statement shades, but the 'unexpected red theory' is all about pops of colour placed in less-thought-of areas of your home. The idea is that a pop of red (big or small) that doesn't typically match the room, automatically improves the look of any space as it's obvious that you're making a statement. 

We think this rule applies to any primary colour, and our Deputy Editor, Rebecca Knight, explains that 'rich yellow shades are perfect as a pop of colour on a sofa. Whether it's a statement sofa or a cushion cover, a flash of retro-yellow completes the look.'

Here's how you should try out the trend...

1. Dip your toe in with accessories

Living room with blue statement armchair and abstract wall

(Image credit: Future)

For the colour-conscious decorators out there, don't fear, you can still enjoy the 'unexpected red theory' trend without going all out. The best way to achieve this is by dabbling in red, yellow and blue accessories to add a touch of the look for minimal cost and commitment. 

'Embracing the 'unexpected red theory' can truly elevate your interior design game, especially when styling tones of red and blue together,' recommends Jason Brownless, senior editorial designer at Dunelm

'Consider introducing our Heart and Soul Blue Velvet Sofa as the focal point, complemented by strategically placed red cushions for a pop of vibrancy. Table lamps that come in vibrant red shades are also great for breaking up the room with a bright pop of colour,' he adds. 

2. Play with height

Blue staircase with red and beige runner

(Image credit: Chris Snook)

The 'unexpected red theory' is all about adding colour in out-of-the-blue places, so using the height of a room to your advantage is guaranteed to add a wow factor to your interior. 

A hallway colour scheme is the ultimate opportunity to include primary colours as the narrow yet long area will allow you plenty of scope to make an impact.

You can then contrast paintwork with another primary colour as an accent, for example, the yellow lampshade and red stair runner act in harmony with this blue staircase without competing as the main feature. 

3. Try an out-of-the-ordinary paint feature

Living room with yellow sofa, painted architraves and blue walls

(Image credit: Boz Gagovski)

Most of our first encounters with primary colours were with a paintbrush in hand, and while the stakes were lower with canvases instead of our walls, it's still the most effective way of utilising the colour palette.  

'I love using pops of red in a room. It can feel a bit much for some to paint a whole room red but red touches really help to add interest and ground a scheme,' advises interior designer, Laura Stephens. 'I have used red on interior architectural features such as architraves - here it separates the room perfectly.'

4. Or go all out...

Annie Sloan blue kitchen with matching blue walls.

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

If you're not afraid to dive in head first to the trend, then why not commit to coloured cabinetry? It might be a daunting prospect for colour newbies, but for the well-seasoned primary colour fans, it's a simple way to make a huge statement. 

Learning how to paint kitchen cabinets will allow you to spruce up existing cabinetry with a lick of paint - great if an entire renovation isn't on the cards. Alternatively, painting freestanding cabinetry (in a kitchen or even fitted wardrobes for a welcoming bedroom aesthetic) will showcase the trend in a more traditional design.

Ready to jump head first into a sea of blue, red and yellow or are you more tempted to dip your toe in first? Either way, the 'unexpected red theory' is here to stay, so experimenting with pops of the statement shade will be the twist you've been missing. 

Holly Cockburn
Content Editor

After starting out her journey at Future as a Features Editor on Top Ten Reviews, Holly is now a Content Editor at Ideal Home, writing about the best interior ideas and news. At Top Ten Reviews, she focussed on TikTok viral cleaning hacks as well as how to take care of investment purchases such as lawn mowers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Prior to this, Holly was apart of the editorial team at Howdens which sparked her interest in interior design, and more specifically, kitchens (Shaker is her favourite!).